[DITL] 2/22/17


I got up this morning with trepidation because my son was sick with the stomach bug a day ago and it seems to have spread through every other family quickly. I’m just waiting to get sick.


I head off to school a bit later than usual. At the inservice yesterday I heard about blended learning with stations, so I wanted to try it. That mean getting lots of different resources together in a short amount of time.


Students start streaming in and I have stations ready for ELT (like a bonus period — 5th period today) but none else. Fortunately I have planing 1st and 2nd period, but 2nd period is CFIP (meeting where we show we’re growing as teachers) so I really only have 1st period planning.


During ELT time the counselor comes in and lets me know that a student left our school suddenly. I’m sad to see him go even though he’s currently my most difficult student to reach. My feelings are mixed and I’m able to convey sorrow to the counselor with honesty despite a part of me thinking how much easier my day and my job became (upon reflection I’ve decided it’s only slightly easier).

10:20, 3rd period, Merit 8th Grade Math

Student rejoice at being asked to do the warm-up “in their head” (every other week this year they’ve had to write down the warm-ups). We do Estimation 180 every Wednesday and this week is estimating the length of Charlotte’s Web followed by To Kill a Mockingbird. Upon reflection, that’s a great opportunity to talk about the books a bit, but we’re too busy.

After the warm-up, I explain the stations: (1) Quiz Corrections, for students who didn’t do well on Friday’s quiz, (2) Watch some KA videos to review for Friday’s Test, and (3) work independently on the study guide.

I assign the students to stations randomly, except for the Quiz Corrections station.

After half of the class time passes, we rotated stations and instead of a “Quiz Correction” station, I had a “Go over the study guide” station.

11:10, 4th period, Honors 8th Grade Math

We’re nearly a month ahead of merit at this point so we’re doing geometry transformations. After a good presentation last week about STEM, I decided to have the students try their hand at some programming, which includes some transformations (mostly translation and rotation, but it also includes lengths and angle measurements, so I feel good about what I’m doing!)

Stations in this class include: (1) Working with Mr. Newman to learn about dilations, (2) Practicing Dilations (this station didn’t really happen because I didn’t find the materials by the time class started!), and (3) Programming through code.org.

In theory one third of the students were at each station. In reality, just over two thirds of the class did programming through code.org and one third worked with me.

12:00, 5th period, Algebra

The stations in this class were a continuation from the morning, so I worked with ~8 students to teach them completing the square within an equation, a third of the students did the Desmos Penny Circle activity and a third of the students practiced completing the square.

We rotated half-way through the class and few of the students who were ahead got to work on their HW in TenMarks.

12:50, Lunch

I have opened up my classroom every day for students to come in and ask questions. I had 3 students in there and a discussion about politics opened up. I mostly ignored it because (1) I’m still unsure of what the boundary is with students and politics and (2) I had a lot of work to do in getting the students for 6th and 7th period placed into stations.

1:23, 6th period, Honors 8th Grade Math

Just as with 4th period, they enjoyed the programming as well, and the students did even better in the small group on dilations (I had explained it twice before, so I was getting better at explaining dilations).

2:13, 7th period, Merit 8th Grade Math

For some reason, nearly half the class needed to finish or take the quiz from Friday, so that became it’s own station. Unfortunately most of the students took the entire period to finish, and I still had behavior issues in the small group that was left over. To give an example, one student in particular was tardy, stepped outside of the class through the door that leads to outside the school, walked into the door that leads into another teacher’s classroom and walked into that teacher’s room as she was teaching, and also left class with 5 minutes left in the school day. Oh, and I email this student’s mother every day and last week was mostly positive reviews. Fortunately I was able to verbally redirect him every time, but that’s more verbal redirections than I care to give to a single student in a single day.


The end of the day school bell rings. I start the after school checklist:

  • Put HW on remind.com
  • Make sure I put in attendance (I didn’t all day…)
  • Check to see if I have to give out any PBIS steps (discipline)
  • Email student 1’s parents
  • Email student 2’s parents
  • Email student 3’s parents
  • Email student 4’s parents
  • Email student 5’s parents (yes, I do all 5 every day!)
  • Plug in HW grades (none today because of the weekend)
  • Enter tutoring list (this is for the ELT time)
  • Take a picture of the notes and the agenda and put them on Google Classroom
  • Make one good phone call home (I have to remind myself that I enjoy making these phone calls, and that parents enjoy hearing good things about their children)
  • Collect the Ticket Outs (I didn’t do any today–I really should have because I’m trying to do blended learning!)
  • Write up tomorrow’s Daily Agenda on the wall

This checklist takes me about an hour and a half, depending on how much cleaning up I have to do today.


I notice an reminder email to write this DITL blog post (I’ve forgotten the past 2 months entries!). I sit down for 30 minutes to type this up.

It’s now 5:00 and I need to do some more grades before I leave. I usually go home around 6:00 but I want to get home sooner today because a friend is coming over to visit with us after dinner and my wife’s parents return late tonight so I want to be home to help her clean up the house a little.

Successes from Today

I think the stations went well, and I especially liked teaching in small groups.

My positive phone call home was on a voicemail, but it was for a girl who worked really hard who’s hit or miss.

We also moved faster in Algebra than I had expected, so we can get deeper with some of the quadratic stuff, which is exciting.

Room for improvement for Today

I was unable to reach the one student in 7th period (sent an email home) and the students taking the quiz were talking way too much. I was tutoring with my back to a majority of the class and I was better during 3rd period about having my back to the wall so I could see everyone, so I just need to be more aware of that. I’m also exhausted by 7th period (and I empathize with all the students who are, too!), so maybe I just need to pace myself better throughout the day.


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[DITL] The Last Day Before Thankgiving

6:00 I wake up to my watch alarm and get ready for school. I turn my phone alarm off before it goes off and notice Glenn Waddell’s reminder email to blog a DITL today. I brush my teeth before eating breakfast because I’m not quite awake. I’m surprised I don’t do that more often.

While showering I debate the ethics and usefulness of doing a warm-up on the Pythagorean Theorem very similar to one of the county-mandated Benchmark tests. I decide to do the warm-up for Merit but not for Honors.

7:05 When I get to school, a fellow teacher comes in to get the Chromebook cart back. I had taken it out of her room since I signed up for it today, but I didn’t notice that she had it signed out for ELT (homeroom). I apologize and later she even brought the cart back to me.

Last night I had the idea to post the agenda to Google Classroom each day. It took 15 seconds and has the HW on there as well as our “essential question” and what we did for the day. I think I’ll do that more often as a resource for absent students.

Displaying IMG_20161122_071801808.jpg

I make copies for the day: test correction forms for ELT, quizzes for Algebra I, and Mathcounts materials for after school.

7:52 Students start coming in for ELT–the 10 minutes when they hear the announcements and see which classes they’re going to (sometimes students are pulled for tutoring). I always have to quiet down one pocket of boys. I patiently “shush” the same student over and over during the morning announcements.

8:05 My 7th period comes in (it’s their turn in the ELT rotation) and we start working on test corrections. They took the test over a week ago, but this was the first time I was able to work with them during ELT, and it took a long time to grade online, so I decided to wait until now. I would write the work up around the room and they copied down the right answer onto their test corrections. I wonder how much they’re getting out of it just copying down what I write, but when I ask them to figure it out on their own, I end up helping them all out and saying the same thing 18 times. On the sheet they have to answer summary questions such as “how do you find the slope from an equation”, so hopefully that helps.

8:38 I have 1st and 2nd period planning. I talk with the other 8th grade teacher about what we’re doing next week and finish what I didn’t get printed earlier. I make keys for Algebra I so they can grade themselves after they take the quiz.

10:17 My 3rd period students start trickling in and I try to direct their attention to the problem on the board that is so similar to the benchmark question that it makes me queasy thinking about it. I’m optimistic but I fear that at least 1/3 of the students in the room won’t understand it even though I go right over it and another third will forget how to do it 15 minutes later when they see in on the test.

The students start out by finishing their test they started yesterday on paper. When they finish the paper, they’re to get a Chromebook and put their benchmark answers into the computer test (setup on Google Classroom). One of the problems is tricky to type in so I ask every student to show me #7. Yes, it’s faster to do that than for me to go back afterwards and change every student’s answer.

Once they finish with the test, they’re to check their grades online and look for missing assignments/missing quiz corrections.

After they do all of that, they’re allowed to play Prodigy.

Algebra is the only class that’s not taking a benchmark rigth now. I try a different warm-up today: Warm-up by checking your HW answers with the other students at your table. It works okay. We quickly go over the HW. Then I show them “my favorite mistakes” from the tickets out, the day before, encouraging them not to make the same mistakes on the quiz.

After the Algebra students take their quiz, they check their work and get a TenMarks username and password to start some practice problems on TenMarks.

12:10 At lunch I offer to tutor a student who was really struggling with 2-step equations. I like to avoid the (often) negative atmosphere of the teacher’s lounge, so this is a double bonus for me.

After lunch, we repeat with my last two classes.

3:00 Mathcounts has a small showing today (only 5 of the 12 members) because the morning announcements sounded like “afternoon activities are cancelled” when it really said “afternoon activity buses are cancelled”. It’s fun doing the math with them and seeing the expressions on their faces. This time one student had 2 riddles for his fellow students, so I printed them off and let them go at it the last 10 minutes.

4:15 I start to tackle this “end of the day to-do list”. It only takes about an hour. I use Google Keep for this, so I can “uncheck all boxes” when I’m done to reuse the list the next day.

  • Take attendance
  • Send Remind.com message
  • Write the next day’s Daily Agenda on the Wall
  • Get Tickets Out
  • Make One Positive Phone Call (remember that parents CARE about their kids and you enjoy this!)
  • Enter Tutoring List
  • Steps? (this is for behavior)
  • Email *****’s parents (student)
  • Email $$$$$’s parents (student)
  • Email %%%%’s parents (student)

I have three trouble students who I’ve found that a daily email home is the best strategy to keep them focused as much as possible. Also those three parents really appreciate the emails.

5:15ish I start to tackle my “end of week” checklist, again on Google Keep.

  • Print New Attendance Sheets
  • Get All the Turned in Work
  • Write next week’s Birthdays on the wall
  • Plug in HW grades for the week
  • Put Warm-ups on Google Classroom
  • Mentor Log?
  • Clean Up
  • Put times next to anything on the to-do list for the weekend

Most of these are faster because it was a 2-day week.

I get to go home around 5:30pm. There’s just a tiny bit of light from the sun which set a while ago when I step outside. I notice that my car is the only one in the lot and briefly wonder if I’m doing something wrong. I’m working full-time after school to get all those things above that NEED to be done: so why am I last to leave? I’m a fairly fast worker.

I play with Benji (2 and a half years old yesterday) and Daniel (4 months) in the evening and type up this blog post at 11pm, when I should be sleeping. We’re driving to Roanoke, VA tomorrow to visit family for Thanksgiving and I need the sleep for the drive. At least I have 5 days off before the next day of school.


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[DITL] A PD Day in Frederick Co.

6:00 am

I wake up to my watch alarm because I was too tired the night before to set it for an hour later. I usually try to get to school by 7 am, but since it is a PD day, I can get to the “Symposium” by 8. All of the teachers across the county go to one of six sites. I am sure that this was explained to me earlier in the year, when I was not worried about this because it was months away.

6:45 am

I finally get up and enjoy the extra rest. The previous two nights I was working up until midnight, which is much later than I am used to. Last night, knowing I did not have to do anything to get ready for today, I think I went to sleep around 9:30 pm.

After a short breakfast, I hop in the car and drive to a local high school–one of the six locations around the county that teachers will be going. This location is focused on secondary teaching and assessment. We signed up for two classes online (weeks before) for the morning. The afternoon will be spent working in my classroom.

8:30 am

I arrive at my first class and am pleasantly surprised that it is a teacher from my own school leading the class! The class is on MobyMax and the teacher does a great job of introducing us to the program, hitting the highlights of what she enjoys most of it, and then letting us mess with it the rest of the time while answering questions. I really want to use it now, and think this will be much more appropriate for many of my students who struggle with the difficult level of reading that TenMarks requires to answer their questions.

10:20 am

A keynote lecture is sandwiched between the two morning classes. I really enjoyed Michael Gorman. He talked about “initiative fatigue”, after listing several dozen initiatives that had been started over the past few decades. Things like PBL, 21st century skills, DOK, etc. He boiled “good teaching” down to the 7 areas that he considered most important, and tossed a few good tools or ways to do each of the seven main points. He asked us to try to take at least one thing away, and I grabbed a few: trying word clouds, commonsense.org, and QFT (see http://rightquestion.org/education/).

11:15 am

My second class was on Peardeck.  I had used it half a dozen times in class, so I was hoping to “go deeper”, but the class was an introductory class. It was a good reminder that I can use it again because it is great for making sure students understand what is going on!


I drive home since my house is sort of on the way to school, where I get to work in the afternoon. I get to eat with my wife and two sons (well, Daniel is only 2 months old, so he just hangs out while we eat).

1:00 pm

I get to school and have grand plans of getting all my grades and lesson plans done so I can enjoy the weekend! I turn in my emergency sub plans, which is about a month late, and talk to my co-teacher about some grading stuff. I get to grade two classes, but have a good talk with the 8th grade counselor about some students. Somewhere in there I talk to our librarian and the principal comes around and hands out muffins that she baked. I mess with MobyMax a little to see what the students would experience. After cleaning my classroom, I look at the clock and realize it is 5:00. Four hours disappeared and I only got 2 of my 5 classes graded.

5:00 pm

I use keep.google.com to make a to-do list for the weekend. My latest attempt to stay on schedule includes me putting times next to each item on the to-do list. This keeps me from telling myself “I’ll get it done later” to so much stuff that I get overwhelmed. Friday night includes creating next week’s quizzes so that I can start planning on Saturday.

5:15 pm

I get home and get to play with my 2-year old, Benji, who is at a great stage of life. Everything is fun and anything can be funny.

10:00 pm After dinner and some more time with my family, we all pray together at 9:23[1]. I can get started on lesson planning, but I get sidetracked by looking at the news (news.google.com). I decide on which quiz to use from the county[2] for 8th grade math and outline the Algebra quiz. It’s now 11:00 and way later than I meant to go to sleep. I will have to do more grading and quiz creation than I had planned on Saturday.


[1] The purpose of this is to remember Luke 9:23. Though I only remember the verse numbers, not the actual verse.

[2] Our county, Frederick County in Maryland, has great teacher resources.

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Link Sheets and New Groups

Link sheets are my favorite way to help students connect the four representations of a function. This day I used them to help students find new groups. In my honors classes they had seen Link sheets before, so they knew what they were supposed to look like, but my merit classes hadn’t yet done link sheets, so this activity worked great as an intro to them for link sheets.

The Activity

I cut up the sheets below into quarters. Notice that every link sheet portrays a different function. I pass these quarters out randomly to the class and they have to find “the rest of their link sheet”. Or as I explained in merit (since they hadn’t done link sheets yet) “find the graph that matches your table, or the equation that matches your graph, etc.”.

The students then answered the questions on each link sheet (same answers on each sheet but different questions!), and then glued the four parts together on a blank paper.

I used this to have them randomly find their new groups and seats, though they wouldn’t have to be permanent. Once everyone finished, we did a gallery walk.

Link to documents in case the iframe is broken.

Link to presentation of instruction in case iframe is broken.

The Result

Most of the students found their groups after some struggle (yay!). I wasn’t prepared for some students getting it wrong; there was one group in each of my merit classes who sat down with the wrong group, so of course there were people walking around looking for their group when their group had sat down already! A quick remedy of this is to simply check in with every group as they sit down. It took me longer than it should have because I was ready for students to be confused, but wasn’t ready for students to be confident in the wrong answer. Don’t assume that students will check each other’s work!


Here’s a completed link sheet.


They should have labeled the point on the graph, too.


One great thing about this lesson is that I got another day out of the materials, while having the students dig deeper! Because every group only saw one link sheet (their own), I gave them a blank link sheet (last page of the document above) and one slice or quarter[1] of another group’s link sheet. They had to fill out the other three parts with their group.

Once they completed it having started with the description quarter, then I gave them a different quarter as a starting point. With each of the non-description quarters, they had to write a description of a situation that matched the function, which many of them enjoyed! I even motivated one student by talking him through his interests and pointing out that he can write a linear function based on how many youtube videos he creates of his bottle-flipping.

I printed the blank link sheet front and back on two sheets so that they would have four link sheets, one starting from each quarter, by the time they were finished.

This whole lesson and extension took two 47 minute periods in honors, who had taken notes about link sheets previously. Homework the second day was “finish the link last link sheet” but most of the students finished it in class already.

In merit, we did notes as well, so over the two days they were only able to fill out two link sheets in their groups (starting with 2 of the 4 quarters).

Checking Their Work



Another good thing about this is I taped up the completed link sheets from the first activity (that had been glued together) and students were able to check their work as they completed each link sheet by walking around the room and finding the same link sheet.


[1] For merit I modified it to begin with two slices or quarters.

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[DITL] September 22nd

6:05 am

I wake up to my phone alarm (my back-up alarm) for the first time this year. Guess I’ve been “thinking about too much” this year to get a really good night’s sleep.


7:00 am

After getting ready, I’m driving to work. Only a ~10 minute commute.

7:10 am

I get to school and begin getting ready. Today is a half-day (end of mid-term/quarter) so there’s no ELT (homeroom). Here’s schedule. (I only put up my classes, 3rd – 7th pd.)


9:20 am

The morning has flown by, but I got organized and was proud of how “ready” each of the things on my desk were. See photos.



Also had the agendas ready. I’ve been better about that this year.


10:36 am

3rd and 4th periods went pretty smoothly (you can see the agenda for a synopsis). I’m really excited to be using Pear Deck and I hope I am able to get it ready for many future lessons.

I announced the winners of the “Amazing Amusement”, my weekly challenge, and I made the girl in 4th period excited. When you win my weekly challenge, you get to a bag of fruit snacks (no candy allowed at our school) and you get to put your name on the Wizard Wall. I’d show you a picture of it, but it has student names on it. Here’s the winner’s work (shortest, most accurate route).


Unfortunately the 6th period student wasn’t in school today, but she does read my blog so maybe she’ll find out she won right here!

For 5th period (Algebra) I got a short 3-act lesson on taxis ready and, though we didn’t finish it, the students enjoyed using the VNPS (whiteboards on the walls). See photos.





And the results of their work:


1:00 pm

The bell rings for the end of the day and I’m a little frustrated at my 7th period because they began putting up chairs and packing up with 2 minutes left while I was showing a video (meat-o-morphosis intro to functions). Well, I guess I should have known: the end of a short day before a long weekend.

4:30 pm

I’m typing up this post because I really want to get home so we can head to the beach! I’m not nearly ready for Monday yet, but I’ll bring grades with me to the beach and hopefully, despite not having internet, I’ll get some work done in preparation for Monday. Where did the last three and a half hours go?!? At least my room is somewhat clean.


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[MTBoS Blaugust] Algebra Properties Discovery Lesson

I want my Algebra 1 class to go as fast as possible, yet I also want them to use generation, a la “Make It Stick”[1], as much as possible. So in the middle of the night, when I couldn’t sleep, I came up with this idea.


Generation is the idea of making students struggle with something before you show them how to do it. I’m not really sure yet how much these Algebra I students have learned before this year, so I hope this’ll make it interesting for those kids who already knew it but are seeing it “from a different angle”.

The google slides should be self-explanatory[2].

(Link in case iframe is broken)

Reasons why I like this approach more than what I’ve done in the past:

  • Generation: students deciding for themselves which properties work for which operations.
  • Collaboration (and they’re using whiteboards hanging on the walls)
  • Cross-curricular: taking English definitions and applying those ideas to math concepts.
  • Mistake correcting: students have to explain why certain properties don’t work, which will (hopefully) reduce how much they make that mistake later.


[1] I still haven’t read the book, but I’ve read so much of what others have said about it, that (1) I really want to read the book and (2) I feel like I’m beginning to understand many of the ideas mentioned in the book.

[2] If they’re not, please tell me because I need to tell my students! 🙂

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[MTBoS Blaugust] The Cover Sheet

I like for students to use cover sheets, but the reason for students can look, on the surface, as rather selfish: “don’t steal my answers!” However, one year I figured out an explanation that makes taking out your cover sheet an altruistic measure.


I’ll type this as a dialogue since that’s the easiest way for me to explain it.

Me: Hey class, I want you to pull out a cover sheet, but does anyone know why we use a cover sheet?

Student: So people don’t CHEAT!

Me: Yes, but there’s another reason. Do you guys ever zone out while thinking or taking a quiz or a test? You know, you’re not really look at the thing where your eyes are pointing? So what if you just zoned out looking at a neighbor’s desk? I can’t see inside your head, so I don’t know that you’re not actually looking at where your eyes are pointing and in that case I would have to assume the worst. We’d have to have a chat after class, probably phone call or email home, and I don’t want to have to do that and I’m sure you don’t. However, if your neighbor had all of their answers covered up, then no-harm-no-foul. You’d be safe and we wouldn’t have to call home. So do you get it when I say “Please take out your cover sheets for your neighbor’s sake”? Nod if you’re with me on that.

*Most students nod*

Me: So please take out a cover sheet for your neighbor’s sake…

Today I had one girl afterwards explain to me that “she zones out looking at the wall, so she’s safe.”

I like how we’ve built up a sense of “we’re in this together, so let’s help each other out” in the classroom, and asking students to take out cover sheets almost feels like a pull in the opposite direction. So I like this explanation because it changes something simple, like a cover sheet, into another way for you to help the people around you.

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